Children are the future of the nation. This is a very famous line that everybody must have heard at least once. They help in the growth of the nation and shape its cultures, values, and practices. They represent the nation to the outside world and thus end up either polishing or demolishing its image. But what happens when these very own children commit crimes? They might be heinous or mild in nature, but how is a child supposed to be treated? Is it based on seriousness or age or maturity? Or should they even be punished at all?
Different people may have a wide range of opinions on this but our justice system has certain laws prescribed for juveniles. However, a separate justice system has been specially created, for these juveniles, which is quite similar to the system for adults. It is based on the principle of ‘Doli Incapax’ which means that a child does not have the mental capacity to form a criminal intent to commit a crime. Before we dive deep, let us examine the prescribed laws.
Laws evolved over time
The first legislation introduced in India which governed juveniles was the Children’s Act, of 1960. The next one introduced in the juvenile justice sphere was the Juvenile Justice Act, of 1986. It repealed the earlier act of 1960. It was introduced in response to the international movement for seeking justice for juveniles and protecting their best interests. It aimed at giving effect to the guidelines contained in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice adopted by the U.N. countries in 1985.
A few years later, the Legislature introduced the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 in response to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Around 12 years later, in 2012, came the news of the shocking and barbarous rape case of Nirbhaya. The accused in this case was a 17.5-year-old juvenile. This further led the Legislature to pass the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection), 2015.
The above legislation was further amended in 2021 when the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Amendment Bill 2021 was passed. Some of the features of the Juvenile Justice Act are as follows: –
- Regarding the various aspects of crimes, there was a clear differentiation formed, leading to the creation of classifications designating the crimes as heinous, severe, and minor. If a juvenile between the ages of 16 and 18 commits a crime, certain guidelines have been established that allow for an adult trial following a thorough examination of their mental competence.
- Juvenile courts were to be established, which meant that distinct courts were to be created that would solely hear juvenile offences, such as the NDPS courts, courts handling POCSO, etc.
- The requirements for the juveniles’ improvement are outlined in Chapter IV of the Act, which has a particular emphasis on the reformation and rehabilitation of juveniles in all circumstances.
- The maximum sentence that may be given to juvenile offenders under the Act is three years, and this punishment also applies to severe acts. The maximum penalty for an adult criminal is seven years in jail, life in prison, or execution. The Act, however, lays the greatest possible focus on juvenile reform in the case of juvenile offenders. According to the Act, the reformation kind of punishment comprises the following: – sending juveniles to Rehabilitation Centers or Juvenile Schools; compelling them to take part in different government or non-government-sponsored activities.;
Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 82 and 83 govern the laws for juveniles.
- Section 82 states that a child below the age of 7 years is exempt from any kind of punishment under the justice system. The reasoning behind this law is that a child can be assumed to not have reached the age of maturity by the time he reaches the age of seven.
- Section 83 states that in the case of children between the age of 7 and 12, their understanding of the act committed and the maturity level attained should be taken into consideration before prescribing punishment.
- For a child above 12 and below 18 years of age, the maturity level is again taken into consideration. However, in the case of heinous offences, the minor is usually tried as an adult.
The spirit of Reformation and the need for change
A case that shows the reformative spirit of the laws is Kakoo v. State of Himachal Pradesh where the accused who was of 13 years of age, committed the offence of rape on a child of 2 years of age and was therefore given a sentence of 4 years of strict imprisonment by the Trial Court, which the High Court maintained. When the defendant protested using Sections 82 and 83 of the IPC, the court decided that the sentence should be lowered to 1 year of rigorous imprisonment with a fine and 6 months of rigorous imprisonment for failing to pay the fine. The criminal was allegedly kept apart from the adult inmates. This case shows that juveniles are usually let off the hook and sent for rehabilitation. This may be beneficial for them but at the same time push others to commit crimes. These laws do not act as a deterrent for other juveniles. It is necessary to impose stricter laws to give juveniles a warning to not commit crimes.
Juveniles are a very sensitive group who are still maturing. Their childhood experiences shape them. They can either have good experiences which turn them into a law-abiding individual or can affect them negatively to some extent due to childhood trauma. If such juveniles commit heinous crimes and are given lenient punishment for it then they may continue committing them in the future. It is essential to deter them from doing so and amending the laws. The Supreme Court is also of the same view and it can be seen from the recent case of the Kathua Gang Rape Case. The Court suggested a change in the Juvenile Justice Act and made the accused face the trial as an adult instead of a juvenile. The accused was an adult at the time of committing the crime. However, he had lied to take the defence of being a minor as that would give him lesser punishment. This clearly shows the prevailing line of thought in the current Indian Juvenile Justice System where being a minor is thought of as a way to escape punishment.
Thus, there is a clear need to bring about a change in the Indian Juvenile Justice System. Another supporting factor is the rapid increase in crimes committed by juveniles in recent years. It is about time that juveniles be assessed properly to know their maturity and be given a justified punishment to teach them a lesson. The law should be modified to do so and at the same time, the spirit of reformation should always be kept in sight. Individual cases should be dealt with differently according to the particular juvenile involved. Only after taking such measures will the Indian Juvenile System improve.
Author(s) Name: Jui Purwat
 Oxford Reference <https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095725300;jsessionid=610458B79EB707FC484F7D6A75282E51> Accessed on Mar 04, 2023
 Children’s Act, 1960
 Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (now amended)
 The Beijing Rules https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/united-nations-standard-minimum-rules-administration-juvenile> Accessed on Mar 04, 2023
 Juvenile Justice act, 2000 (now amended)
 Convention on the rights of the Child <https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child> Accessed on Mar 04, 2023
 Juvenile Justice (Care and Proetection) Act, 2015
 Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Amendment Bill, 2021
 Supra note 8.
 Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sec 82
 Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sec 83
 Kakoo v. State of Himachal Pradesh, AIR 1976 SC 1991
 Supra note 10.
 Kathua Gang Rape Case (The Hindu, Jan 08, 2023) < https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kathua-gangrape-murder-case-chargesheet-filed-against-juvenile-declared-adult-by-sc/article66352890.ece > Accessed on Mar 04, 2023